Gatherings can be fun, but big events can become pressure cookers when expectations are high to maintain traditions and curate the perfect memory. For families with dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, disabilities, or complex medical conditions, here are six ways to gather with joy rather than stress.
Normalize disabilities and age-related struggles by talking about them with friends and family. Share your experience by framing conversations on what guests can do with the proper support and help. Use these conversations as an opportunity to invite others to participate and connect. Consider setting expectations to help anticipate unusual behaviors such as memory loss, wandering, or sundowning.
When people develop complex needs, it takes a village. Engage other family members or friends in tasks they are willing and have the skills to do, such as driving your loved one to and from the event, getting them food, or bringing mementos or pictures to start conversations. Consider hiring a caregiver to attend to free others up from the more intensive caregiving tasks.
Plan a Few Activities
Activities that center on your loved one’s interests, abilities, and memories keep everyone occupied and engaged. Reminiscing about the good times creates closeness and is what families and celebrations are about. Set out photo albums, play music, or host a group video call.
Create Safe & Time Out Spaces
Tripping hazards, clutter, and rearranged furniture can be confusing, cause trouble, and overwhelm. Clean up loose cords and put away candles. Avoid blinking holiday lights or creating big decorative displays that impede walkways and sightlines. Preparing another room that is removed from the main activities and noise is excellent for impromptu naps, breaks, or one-on-one chats.
Keep it Short
The party might go on all night, but plan for shorter stays for those with dementia. Arrange for your loved one to arrive before meals and have someone drive them home after some post-dessert socializing. Save longer, more meaningful connections for one-on-ones.
Take Care of Yourself
Caregivers can’t do everything, so setting realistic expectations on what you can and can’t contribute is essential and models to others how they can cultivate compassion and wellness.
Remind yourself that time together is more important than any activity or conversation. Make the most of what your loved one is capable of. Sometimes families can be discouraged that their efforts to make something special and memorable will not be appreciated due to the nature of dementia. Shifting expectations to pursuing moments rather than memories keeps meaning and connections alive.